The Bell House, Brooklyn, NY
March 13-14, 2015
On paper, it had the potential to be one of the greatest U.S. underground heavy metal festivals ever. Imagine a hand-picked roster consisting solely of old-fashioned true North American steel. Imagine one headliner reuniting with its classic lineup on U.S. shores for the first time in 30 years, and another headliner totally stoked to perform a hometown career-spanning retrospective of more than 35 years (albeit without its fallen leader). Imagine supporting acts dating back as far as the 1970s and as recently as today, all sharing a love for the mighty riff, the denim, the leather, the Flying V, and the sound that has always captivated our minds and hearts. All of this mayhem was set to go down before a packed house with attendees from around the nation and, indeed, around the world at a 500-capacity converted warehouse somewhere in the bowels of Brooklyn, New York. This had all the makings of an American version of Germany’s legendary Keep It True Festival. Not even a pack of wild dogs could have kept Jen and me away.
Friday, March 13, 2015
After spending the morning and early afternoon hours sightseeing (such as walking across the Brooklyn Bridge all the way to Manhattan in a clear, sunny, chilly day), we made our way to the Bell House at around 4:30 p.m. While not perhaps in the nicest part of town (judging by the nondescript warehouses surrounding it on 7th Street), the venue had a lot of things going for it: great beer list, reasonable prices, on-site barbecue vendor, excellent Argentinian/Mediterranean restaurant down the street, big stage, nice sightlines, plenty of beautiful exposed brick and rafters, and so on. Staff was, ahem, overzealous on the first day, especially. I stopped in the lobby area to look at some flyers and within 15 seconds was informed by a hefty venue staffer that I could not stand there (I guess it was a fire lane or something). Another beefy security guard clad in a Nike hoodie spent the entire last song of Destructor’s set standing in the middle of the front of the stage to ward off stage divers. Someone mentioned something about this venue typically hosting comedy shows and jazz concerts, not metal gigs. It showed. They seemed to relax a bit on the second day, which helped immensely. Patrons for this festival were exactly what you would expect: Mostly older dudes, heavy metal lifers, clad in patch jackets, studs and leather, and wearing every obscure metal t-shirt you could imagine. (Damn, there were a lot of Night Demon shirts in the audience, though.) Sure, the younger generation was represented too, but mostly this was a weekend of old-school metal for the crusty old-schoolers themselves, people who’d lived and breathed this stuff ever since the first time it made the rounds. Again, the Keep It True comparison is apt.
Unfortunately, with the last minute cancellation of Magic Circle, the first three bands of the evening were not my cup of tea, borrowing more from the punk-influenced and extreme strands of the 1980s underground metal movement. Missed all of Nightmare City’s set standing in the bar area drinking beer and socializing. Canadian extreme thrashers Aggression and black/thrash Machine of War (forged out of the ashes of 1980s act N.M.E.) both had the pedigree and the energy to start the large mosh pit whirling. Aggression gets points for bringing out promoter He Wang and October 31 frontman King Fowley to sing backup vocals on the song “Metal Slaughter,” although they lose points for the singer keeping his eyes on the lyric sheets throughout their performance. More importantly, Aggression gets major respect for soldiering on with the gig even after their bass player was stopped at the US/Canada border. Rather than cancel their performance (which would have been completely understandable, given the circumstances), one guitarist switched to bass and the band played on. There’s the indomitable, never-say-die spirit of heavy metal in action, boys and girls. Meanwhile, Machine of War delivered a bitching cover of Venom’s “Welcome to Hell” amidst their originals, but otherwise didn’t really catch my ear. Still, both Aggression and Machine of War seemed well-received by the more extreme-minded punters in the crowd, so I was probably in the minority.
Defenders of the Old kicked into high gear for me when Cleveland’s Destructor stormed the stage at nearly 9:00 p.m. Original members Dave Overkill (vocals/guitars) and Matt Flammable (drums) were joined by two longtime stalwarts of the Cleveland metal scene (nicknamed Nick Annihilator and Tim Hammer, in time-honored Destructor fashion). Dave in particular was decked out in enough leather and studs to make me wonder if he had raided Rob Halford’s wardrobe case before the gig. Time has robbed Destructor of none of their power and vitality, as the opening salvo of “Tear Down the Heavens” and the classic “Pounding Evil” blew me away. Dave Overkill’s distinctive clean pipes remain fully intact, and Matt Flammable was back there pounding away on his kit (Dave cracked about Matt, “we prop him up with a stick in the back because he’s so fucking old, but he’s still got it,” and yes he does!). The band welcomed Dave’s 17-year old son Hunter to the stage to contribute backing vocals on “Sonic Bullet.” The eight-song, 45-minute set was perhaps a bit light on the ‘Maximum Destruction’ material for the tastes of some, including only “Pounding Evil,” “The Iron Curtain” and blistering closer “Take Command” off that legendary opus. Dave teased us by introing “Bring Down the Hammers” (a ‘Decibel Casualties’ demo tune that served as a bonus track on the CD edition of ‘Maximum Destruction’), but they didn’t actually play the song. Don’t get me wrong, the newer songs that Destructor aired were great (particularly the as-yet unreleased anthem “Keep the Faith”), but with this crowd it might have been advisable to lean more heavily on the old classics. That’s not a knock: Setlist quibbles aside, Destructor kicked ass and really jumpstarted this festival. Setlist: Tear Down the Heavens, Pounding Evil, World of War, Keep the Faith, The Iron Curtain, Metal Spike Deep, Sonic Bullet, Take Command.
Next up were Connecticut legends Liege Lord, one of my most anticipated bands of the weekend. I’d only been able to witness Liege Lord once before, way back in 1989 at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston, MA, where they were opening for Candlemass’s first American gig ever. As I stood pressed against the stage in the front row (there was no barricade separating fans from bands) waiting for the gig to begin tonight, amiable bassist Matt Vinci ambled over to the front of the stage and shook my hand. We started chatting about that old Boston show, which he hadn’t remembered until I told him about it. It was very cool to reminisce with the man for a couple of minutes. Then, as the show was about to start, Vinci came over and fist-bumped me, just as he did with each of his bandmates. Awesome gesture. The band’s live lineup tonight included 3/5 of the ‘Master Control’ band: Vinci, guitarist Tony Truglio (scarcely recognizable with his bald head and goatee), and vocalist Joe Comeau (also bald and goateed, plus a few pounds stockier than back in the day, just like many of us). Powerhouse drummer Frank “The Kraken” Gilchriest (on loan from Riot V, who were playing next) sat behind the kit and pounded out the thunder. There was also a younger second guitarist, wearing a black beanie and tethered to an impressive array of pedals and effects. Liege Lord sounded incredible tonight. Comeau’s voice maintains all of its grit and power, even if he mostly was stationary, perched at the middle of the stage with one foot on the monitor. Vinci and Truglio moved about the stage a good bit. Surprisingly, this old-school crowd was highly partisan for ‘Master Control,’ rather than the earlier ‘Freedom’s Rise’ opus (which I would have expected to be their preference). Well, it was a happy audience then, as the final tally was 6 tunes from ‘Master Control,’ 4 from ‘Freedom’s Rise,’ and just 1 from ‘Burn to My Touch.’ Whatever, there was nary a dud in the batch, and I was so happy to hear songs like “Fear Itself,” “Kill the King,” the blissfully brilliant “Rage of Angels,” “Master Control,” and spine-tingling “Vials of Wrath” aired this evening. All in all, it was a positively fantastic performance from Liege Lord, worthy of headlining status in its own right. Setlist: Vials of Wrath, Eye of the Storm, Cast Out, Dark Tale, Kill the King, Rage of Angels, Feel the Blade, Fear Itself, Master Control, Wielding Iron Fists, Fallout.
I honestly don’t know where to begin in discussing the Riot V headlining set. Riot’s been one of my all-time favorite bands since, well, since forever. Sadly, I only saw them once with Mark Reale (R.I.P.), back in 1998 at the Wacken Open Air Festival when they were supporting the spectacular ‘Inishmore’ album. Nearly everything they’ve ever done is killer in my book, and few bands boast such a deep and fruitful discography, from the 1970s all the way through the present day. Riot V were my #1 reason for making the trip to Brooklyn. My expectations were not only met, they were exceeded. Stretched out over 21 songs spanning 110 minutes, Riot’s performance honestly had everything I could have hoped for and more. There were triumphant, adrenaline speed bursts in songs like “Ride Hard Live Free” and “Flight of the Warrior.” There were poignant moments that made me feel choked up, like on the incredible “Bloodstreets.” There were the bluesy feel-good rockers such as “Hard Lovin’ Man” and “Take Me Back.” There was the glorious “Angel Eyes” from the Mike Dimeo period. There were even surprise tunes aired from the deep hidden recesses of the band’s oeuvre, namely “Black Leather and Glittering Steel” and “No Lies,” both of which the band (or at least this incarnation of it) performed live for the first time (prompting laughter and jokes from the members as to “Black Leather” that it was insanely difficult to play and they hoped they wouldn’t screw it up too badly). From a pure set list perspective, I might have drawn up a different collection of Riot songs, but I couldn’t have drawn up a better one than what they actually played. This set was just wall-to-wall classics, nicely balanced through all the band’s eras, and covering both the hits and the rarities. It was damn near perfect.
At the heart of it, though, this show was about so much more than just the amazing songs. From a performance standpoint, all five members (plus blonde female backing vocalist) were simply in the zone. The guitar team of Mike Flyntz and newcomer Nick Lee brought all of Reale’s magical riffs and melodies to life in a way that was faithful, reverential even. Lee is a much younger guy than his bandmates, but he brings boundless energy to the stage, thrashing around, climbing on top of the monitors and road cases, and punctuating certain moments by placing his guitar atop his head. I was in the front row, right in front of Lee, and was unfortunately having to use one of his monitors as a brace to keep some asshole from wedging into my hard-earned spot against the stage. This resulted in multiple occasions where Lee or I had to shift quickly to keep me from being stepped on by him, so there was plenty of eye contact and a few mouthed “sorry’s” between us during the gig. Bassist Don Van Stavern, bedecked in headband and “Keep Calm and Shine On” shirt, was a hulking, imposing presence on the stage, not moving around a whole lot but constantly making eye contact with the audience and singing along. Drummer Frank “The Kraken” Gilchriest was playing his second back-to-back set, God bless him, and was a mighty whirlwind of flailing hair and sticks. (“Liege Lord owes us $500 rent” for borrowing him, the band quipped.) Then there’s Todd Michael Hall. I always knew the dude had a great voice, not only from listening to the new Riot V album, but also from hearing his recorded works in Jack Starr’s band and Reverence. But hoe-leee crap, Hall’s got an otherworldly voice live, with a simply mindboggling combination of power and finesse, range and control. He hit every note, whether he was singing Speranza, Forrester, Moore, Dimeo or his own material, and adapted his voice to fit each style. What an amazing talent Todd Michael Hall is, and he simply sang his ass off tonight, all the while nonchalantly smiling, playing air guitar, and fist-bumping audience members throughout the gig. Todd also had help, though, in the form of the aforementioned female backup singer. Their two voices combined beautifully on the choruses and high harmonies, and they were remarkably in sync. As a frontman, too, Hall carried the load nicely, whether he was jesting that we should all feel sorry for him because he hadn’t drunk any beer yet tonight to preserve his voice, imploring the overexuberant pit-dwellers to stay off the stage so the equipment didn’t get damaged, or simply being humble and appreciative of the great crowd (“thanks for hanging in there with us for so long tonight”). He just struck the right tone. There were, simply put, no weak links on the Riot V stage tonight.
There was also more to this gig than the stellar setlist and stupendous performances. There was emotion, real heartfelt emotion. The spirit of Mark Reale felt close at all times, from his guitar road case placed on the stage throughout the set (and held aloft by Flyntz and Hall at various times) to the prerecorded intro that included a Reale voiceover (“this is Mark Reale from Riot”) to the “Mark” chants that would break out in the audience from time to time to occasional comments from the stage about how much he is missed. The whole set was really a beautiful and moving tribute to the man. I’m not going to lie: I had a tear in my eye when “Bloodstreets” started, I don’t know why. To put things over the top, two former Riot guitar players who had jammed with Reale in the early days came out onto the stage as guests. First, L.A. Kouvaris from the ‘Rock City’ lineup came out and rocked “Warrior” with the band. Second, Rick Ventura (who honestly looks a little like Reale) came out to play two ‘Fire Down Under’ numbers, in the form of “No Lies” and crowd-pleasing “Swords and Tequila.” You could tell that it meant a lot to both gentlemen to be part of the evening’s festivities in that way. When the last strains of “Thundersteel” rang out into the night at close to 1:30 a.m., I felt completely drained, mentally and physically, but also completely happy. I shook each band member’s hand from the front row, with both Nick Lee and Don Van Stavern pressing custom picks into my hand as they did so.
To me, this felt like the ultimate Riot V performance, as good as a Riot show could ever possibly be without Mark Reale, and the best gig I’ve seen from any band in recent memory. Wow. Judging by the looks on the faces of many punters in the packed hall, I was not alone. Shine on, warriors. Setlist: Narita, Ride Hard Live Free, Fight or Fall, On Your Knees, Johnny’s Back, Hard Lovin’ Man, Metal Warrior, Sign of the Crimson Storm, Outlaw, Wings are for Angels, Black Leather and Glittering Steel, Angel Eyes, Bloodstreets, Take Me Back, Flight of the Warrior, Fall from the Sky, Road Racin’, Warrior, No Lies, Swords and Tequila, Thundersteel.
Saturday, March 14, 2015
Unlike yesterday, today the weather just plain sucked in Brooklyn: gray skies, steady drizzle, etc. This was no good for sightseeing, so (aside from a failed attempt to buy a slice of pie in honor of National Pie Day, 3/14/15) we mostly hung out at the hotel until 2:00 p.m., when it was time for the scheduled meet’n’greet event at the venue with The Rods and Exciter. As we entered the venue, I could clearly hear Exciter’s sound check. They were playing “Iron Dogs.” Cool. We joined the queue for The Rods, who were doing their signing session, but soon stepped out line to go talk to Carl Canedy’s wife, Patti, whom we had dined with in Madrid last year. With Patti handling The Rods merch for the Brooklyn show was Carl’s daughter Erin, and we ended up talking to Patti and Erin so long that we missed out on The Rods’ meet’n’greet altogether. We did, however, re-enter the line for the Exciter session. The line moved slowly, mostly because some people had brought copies of every Exciter vinyl and CD ever released to be autographed. Finally we got to the front of the line and I enjoyed brief conversations with John Ricci (reminding him of our conversation in Cleveland more than 10 years ago when he told me that a reunion could never happen) and Allan Johnson (talking about how and when I got into the band and what my favorite album is versus that of others, with Al saying that most people’s favorite is ‘Heavy Metal Maniac’). From Dan Beehler, I got a hello and a handshake. All were pleasant and cordial, and I captured the moment with a killer photo of me with the entire band. Awesome.
After the signing session, Jen and I went down the street to a restaurant called The Bahche, where the proprietor welcomed us even though I was wearing a Satan shirt and Jen was wearing a Night Demon shirt. We were the only visible metalheads in the joint, and there was some kind of special event (baby shower, who the hell knows?) going on. We got some funny, disapproving stares from the stuffed-shirt, uppity patrons, but the staff was as nice and friendly to us as could be. The Mediterranean breakfast and veggie burger options were excellent, washed down with coffee (Jen) and Brooklyn lager (me). Fully fueled, we were now ready to rock, so we returned to the Bell House for the start of the night’s musical entertainment.
First up tonight was Natur, a local New York City trad metal band who put out a good album called ‘Head of Death’ on Earache Records in 2012. This four-piece is definitely steeped in the NWOBHM tradition, and is all about gigantic dual-guitar riffs and strong, clear vocals. The songs don’t quite stick with me, but I love the style and feel like these guys have the sound nailed down brilliantly even if the tunes and stage presence aren’t quite there yet. I quite enjoyed rockin’ out to them and watching their wild bushy red-haired lead guitarist, Dino Destroyer, tear up his Les Paul. Natur were followed by Cauchemar, a female-fronted French Canadian occult doom act that was previously unknown to me. Cauchemar featured the same drummer as Natur, a bespectacled guitarist, a rockin’ Latino bassist, and a black-caped, Mercyful Fate-shirt-wearing female singer with a penchant for the dramatic. (I later learned that this singer, Annick Giroux, has her own heavy metal cookbook on the marketplace entitled ‘Hellbent for Cooking’, but that’s neither here nor there.) Musically, Cauchemar were very cool, churning out those gigantic Sabbath-inspired riffs and keeping enough pep in their step to remain musically interesting for a doom band. Visually, the band relied upon endless layers of thick stage fog, with guitarist and bassist remaining rooted to their spots while Giroux stalked the stage in her cape, thrashed about maniacally, and air-guitared. Hate to say it, but a weak link for me was the vocals, which were so buried in effects (intended to make them sound mystical and sinister) that words (French, I later learned) and melody alike were damn near impossible to decipher. Nonetheless, Cauchemar were well received, and honestly they made for a nice stylistic change-up from every other band on the festival roster. Definitely not an unpleasant way to spend 40 minutes. By now, it was just after 6:30 p.m. and time for another Defenders of the Old highlight. Fresh off the airplane from a two-week barnstorming tour in Europe (including festivals in England, Hamburg and Athens), High Spirits were locked and loaded tonight. The only other time I’d seen them, Chris Black & Co. were stuck on a postage-stamp sized stage in Mississippi playing to an audience of 5 people on the wrong side of midnight on a Tuesday. Tonight, on the big festival stage, the quintet (wearing their trademark black t-shirts and white jeans) hit the stage as if they’d been shot from a cannon, a blur of infectious high energy. Setlist was almost exactly what they’ve been playing for months now, with the notable omission of “Going Up” (pity, as I love that tune) and the welcome addition of “Demons at the Door.” The audience was sucked into High Spirits’ magical spell immediately, and the entire gig was like a big rock’n’roll party with people singing along, drinking beer, rocking out and smiling. A telling moment happened a few songs in, when Chris Black leaned over to guitarist Scott Hoffman and mouthed, “this is fun.” Both men’s grins said it all. High Spirits have evolved into such a confident, stellar live act that it’s easy to forget the band’s origins as a one-man project recorded in somebody’s bedroom. A few noteworthy occurrences: After playing the, errmmm, poppy “I Need Your Love” (which Chris dedicated to the good-looking girls and guys in the crowd even though he couldn’t see them because he wasn’t wearing his glasses), Chris apologized for that wimpy song and said, “now we’re going to play an ass-kicker,” which they did in the form of “Wanted Dead.” Haha. It was amazing to watch the entire hall light up when the first notes of “Another Night in the City” kicked in. That’s really become the band’s “hit song,” and Hoffman marveled to me later that this same audience reaction happens each time the play it, and he now understands 1/1,000th of what it must be like when, say, Motorhead starts playing “Ace of Spades” or something. Set closer “Midnight Sun” was dedicated to Mark Reale and Riot, which served as the inspiration for the lyrics of the song, I guess, with Chris Black saying how honored High Spirits were to be on the same stage that “the immortal Riot” had played on the night before. Lastly, Chris came up with the best description yet for Defenders of the Old promoter He Wang, calling him “a true treasure of underground heavy metal.” Damn right, but you know what, so is High Spirits. Setlist: High Spirits, Full Power, This is the Night, When the Lights Go Down, I Need Your Love, Wanted Dead, I Need to Know, Demons at the Door, Another Night in the City, Midnight Sun.
October 31 is always a welcome addition to a metal festival. Their rough’n’ready, no-frills, old-school metal sound appeals to fans of everything from thrash to trad to NWOBHM to power to more extreme variants. King Fowley is a genuine, heart-on-the-sleeve ambassador for the genre. The kindness of his heart is matched only by his larger-than-life goofball personality and his abiding love of heavy metal. Our music needs more champions like King, that’s for sure. Tonight October 31 offered up what I would call a typical set from them, filled with the standards from their back catalog (“Visions of the End,” “The Fire Awaits You,” “Warlock,” “A Million Goodbyes,” etc.), a couple of new songs from the recently-released ‘Bury the Hatchet’ album (the title track plus “Gone to the Devil”), and the traditional “The Power and the Glory” Saxon cover to round out the proceedings. While the band as a whole may sound a bit ragged in places, Brian “Hellstorm” Williams is a tremendous guitarist and it was fun to stand right in front of him and watch him shred, with goofy faces aplenty. As always, King’s stage raps were priceless, whether he was blathering on about seeing Exciter, Mercyful Fate and Motorhead for $5 back in the day, discussing his 46 years of age (“don’t let the bald spot fool you”), or excoriating the posers that still pollute our scene (“we’re not going to go grunge, we’re not going to go rap, we’re not going to play thrash for two weeks then play Thin Lizzy stoner doom for two weeks, we know the patches on our jackets”). The guy is irrepressible. To add to that vibe, it bears noting that King brought a nice assortment of props to the stage: a Freddy Krueger head that sprayed water, a bag of glitter that he dumped on the crowd, the obligatory Saxon flag in his pants that he whipped out during the cover tune, and a collection of poster board signs, bearing the words “Stay,” “Wild,” “Metal” and “Fuckers.” The idea was that each member of the band would hold up one of these signs at the end of the gig to spell out the above message, but King kept screwing up which sign went where, so it said things like “Stay Fuckers Metal Wild” and that sort of thing. Hilarious. Setlist: Visions of the End, The Warlock, Salem’s Curse, Bury the Hatchet, Gone to the Devil, guitar solo, The Fire Awaits You, Commit to Sin, A Million Goodbyes, Powerhouse, The Power and the Glory. I don’t get Brocas Helm. I really don’t. I kept asking people who they were most looking forward to seeing this weekend, and a surprisingly high percentage of people answered Brocas Helm. Now, I’ve got three CDs from the band in my collection, and I like ‘em to a greater or lesser degree, but I never heard anything on those discs that made me go, “Wow, this band rules” or anything like that. Anyway, never mind me, it was obviously a big deal to many that Brocas Helm were making their East Coast debut after, what, three decades of being a band. I gotta be honest, I missed the first few songs of their set because I was conversing with Scott Hoffman from High Spirits, and he was regaling me with stories about their European adventures. I made it into the nuts-to-butts packed concert hall for probably the last 30-35 minutes of their 50 minute set. I still don’t get it. You’ll rarely see a more odd looking trio on stage at a metal gig. The drummer reminded me of older Bilbo from the Lord of the Rings movies, albeit with longer white/gray hair and an endless array of awesome drummer facial expressions. The singer/guitarist looked (and, weirdly enough, sounded) like a more heavyset version of Lips from Anvil, sporting a backwards green ballcap for their entire set. And the bassist? He was the Walrus. I don’t know what else to say. He was wearing a military hat, had a huge mustache, and round dark-tinted spectacles. What the hell? The music sounded like the kind of obscure Manilla Roadish stuff (albeit much, much quirkier) that the truer-than-thou crowd laps up these days, and that was so with this audience too. Of course, the massive clouds of pot smoke in the air probably contributed to the Defenders’ enjoyment, as well. Me, I was sort of bemused about the whole thing, but I can’t say that I affirmatively liked it, at least until the last two songs, “Cry of the Banshee” and “Skullf**ker,” which were a cut above everything else I heard Brocas Helm play in terms of catchiness and coolness.
Seeing The Rods live in Madrid, Spain was one of my very favorite concert experiences of 2014. For a trio of unassuming, humble, older New Yorkers, these guys rocked out with reckless abandon, multiplying fun upon fun and obviously having a blast while they cranked out all their old early 80s hard rockin’ tunes. So, needless to say, I had extraordinarily high hopes and expectations for seeing The Rods in Brooklyn tonight. Things started off on a quizzical note with the curious choice of opener, “Evil in Me,” a song culled from a David Feinstein solo album, rather than a proper The Rods song. Weird. Still, it’s a good enough song and things seemed to be just hitting their stride when, all of a sudden, Feinstein’s guitar went out. I mean, gone, like R-U-N-N-O-F-T, to quote O Brother Where Art Thou. Bassist Garry Bordonaro and drummer Carl Canedy finished up the song. Then an army of techs clustered around the backline to try to figure out what was wrong with the guitar rig. They stayed there for more than 15 minutes. To try to fill some of the dead time, Canedy played an impromptu drum solo and Bordonaro made a few remarks to the audience, mostly things like, “I’m definitely going to need a beer when this is over.” He also joked that we shouldn’t worry because the band would just play at Ramones speed to get their full set in. The inescapable fact, however, was that this was a total catastrophe, an unequivocal momentum killer. When you lose nearly 20 minutes of your 50 minute set to technical difficulties, and when it happens during the first song, you don’t recover. You just don’t. Finally the guitar backline was fixed and Feinstein was ready to go. After a hasty band consultation with setlist in hand (no doubt figuring out which songs to cut), The Rods did the best they could for the 25 or so minutes remaining to run through some of their best-loved tunes, sometimes even in medley form just to cram as much material into the sliver of remaining time as possible. Stuff like “Hurricane” got the moshpit moving and the audience singalong to “The Night Lives to Rock” was semi-successful. But no matter how hard the band worked, how much Bordonaro bounced around the stage, or how cool the myriad Feinstein/Bordonaro synchronized stage moves were, the battle (and the crowd) had been lost. And I think the band knew it. When it all mercifully came to end, Feinstein thanked us all for our patience and the band shuffled off. Man, it bummed me out. I know what a killer live band The Rods are and I know how much they must have been looking forward to this Fest. Here’s hoping they turn things around at Ragnarokkr in May with the barnstorming performance I know they have in them. Setlist (approximate): Evil in Me, Night Lives to Rock, Hurricane, Wild Dogs, Hot City, Cold Sweat and Blood, Nothing Going on in the City, Power Lover.
Finally, it was time for tonight’s headliner, the most eagerly anticipated band of the weekend for the vast majority of attendees. The original lineup of Exciter was here, with a massive banner spanning the entire stage to announce their presence. I never got to see the original Exciter back in the day because I was too young. To be sure, I bought the ‘Long Live the Loud’ LP when it came out in 1985 based solely on the cover art (hey, for a teenager, there’s really nothing cooler than a warrior, a sword and a naked chick, though I remember being petrified that my Mom would find it), then worked my way back to the two predecessor albums. I had seen Exciter in the early 2000s when John Ricci was the only original member in the band, but it just wasn’t the same. So the prospect of seeing this lineup was hugely, errr, exciting to me. When the traditional “The Holocaust” intro came over the P.A., I felt the hair on my arms stand up with anticipation. Then, BAM, they hit the stage with a four-pack of awesome songs from ‘Heavy Metal Maniac’ before anyone in the audience could catch their breaths. It was incredible. Ricci and Johnson worked the front of the stage like the seasoned pros they are, but the real jewel was Dan Beehler behind the kit. Watching him work the ride cymbal and snare at high speed while belting out the lead vocals at full power, sweat pouring off his brow the entire time, was simply awe-inspiring. I had to pinch myself because I couldn’t believe this was really happening. Funny, I think lots of folks in the room felt the same way. Beehler’s comments after each song were a variant on the theme of “holy shit” or “holy fuck.” He called out to the Old Bridge Militia, who had come up on stage earlier to make a pitch for their foundation. And he made a comment that encapsulated this show and this weekend perfectly, to-wit: “Holy shit, we walked into a time machine and came out in 1983.” That’s exactly how it felt, really it is. Okay, Johnson is now mostly bald and gray, Beehler’s voice (always suspect even during the best of times) strains mightily (and with varying degrees of success) to hit those high notes and he skips some of those wild screams, but dammit, this was the genuine article, and it really felt like it. Exciter delivered a performance for the ages tonight, ripping through five songs off ‘Heavy Metal Maniac,’ four from ‘Violence and Force,’ and two off ‘Long Live the Loud,’ plus a Ricci solo spot, before calling it a night after 70 minutes of sweaty fistpumping headbanging paradise. I got a look at one of their printed setlists after the gig, and there were actually three additional songs that they cut from the planned performance (“Victims of Sacrifice,” “I am the Beast,” and “Swords of Darkness”). These cuts weren’t made for time constraints, as their gig ended much earlier than Riot’s did last night. I think it was exhaustion. Beehler was noticeably suffering near the end of the set, and who could blame him. The temperature in the room (which had always been comfortable before Exciter played) became stiflingly hot, thanks to the packed house and the writhing mass of humanity in the pit. It looked like Beehler’s call, as I could swear that one point I saw him get Ricci’s attention and mouth the words, “No ‘Victims’.” Still, not a single attendee could feel shortchanged tonight. Exciter put on a simply monstrous show and it was an amazing gift for those of us who never caught the band in their prime, to see them rocking so loud, so proud, and so triumphant all these years later. Long live the loud, indeed. Setlist: Stand Up and Fight, Heavy Metal Maniac, Iron Dogs, Rising of the Dead (yes!), Violence and Force, Scream in the Night, Delivering to the Master, Blackwitch, Pounding Metal, guitar solo, Beyond the Gates of Doom (yes!), Long Live the Loud. Encore: Evil Sinner.
The sad and miserable underbelly to all of this headbanging delight was that Jen and I had an early morning flight out of LaGuardia Airport on Sunday morning. By the time we got back to the hotel it was after 2:00 a.m. So we packed our bags and sat around debriefing the gig and sipping on the last of our room beers until 5:00 a.m. before marching down the street to catch the F train to Queens, and transferring to the Q70 express bus to LaGuardia from there. We were tired as hell, but He Wang and the Defenders of the Old had thrown one tremendous old-school heavy metal party, so it was well worth it. When do we get to do it all again???
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~